The first time you break tradition is the hardest time.
November 3, 2015 11:43 AM   Subscribe

"When the monsters of your childhood become faded old people with the fight gone out of them, what do you do? How do you find a way to relate? Do you forgive and try to find a way to interact with who they are now or do you hold onto the tight little ball of yourself you've been protecting all this time?" How do I tell my dysfunctional folks I'm not spending the holidays with them this year?

☆ Dear Sugar, 2010: The Empty Bowl
I said you were strong and brave to stop communicating with your father because you did something many people can never do. You set a boundary. You decided that you will not be mistreated and you acted upon that decision. That choice was born of anger and hurt. The territory beyond it is born of healing and transformation and peace—at least it is if you'd like to have a smashingly beautiful life.
☆ The Hairpin, 2011: Festive Holiday Boundary-Setting
You do not have to accept unkind treatment from anyone, whether or not they gave birth to you and/or helped you pay for college and/or __________________. This is so important! And so true! You don’t have to listen to bullshit about your skin or your weight or your sexuality or your job or your marriage or your reproductive status or your tattoos or your hair or your clothes or ANYTHING ELSE. YOU DON’T!!!!1!
☆ Captain Awkward, 2012: Guess what? Not everyone's family is awesome and not everyone loves "the holidays."
I'm glad for people who celebrate this time of year with genuine joy and affection and meaning, but we have to make room in our celebrations for people's real pain. Their real experiences. Their real selves. If you're using your idea of the holidays to bulldoze people’s real suffering or pressure them to perform a certain way for you, I can't feel very merry about whatever you've got going on.
☆ Slate, 2013: What do grown children owe their abusive parents?
What do we owe our tormentors? It's a question that haunts those who had childhoods marked by years of neglect and deprivation, or of psychological, physical, and sexual abuse at the hands of one or both parents. Despite this terrible beginning, many people make it out successfully and go on to build satisfying lives. Now their mother or father is old, maybe ailing, possibly broke. With a sense of guilt and dread, these adults are grappling with whether and how to care for those who didn't care for them.
☆ MeFi, 2015: A perspective from a distance. The abuser's side of the story.
posted by divined by radio (96 comments total) 86 users marked this as a favorite
 
I basically just told my mother at one point about 20 years ago that her obsession with having a Norman-Rockwell-perfect holiday was ruining any chance of us actually enjoying time together over those times, and that I would not be coming home for Thanksgiving or Christmas anymore because I had better energy in my life. (Not in those words, and certainly a much more protracted conversation.)

But leaving my family behind and celebrating holidays (that I choose to observe) with my family of choice instead of my family of birth (well I was adopted, but same thing) has improved my life a lot and has created new spaces for me and my family to find connection that aren't regulated by a calendar, and it's made our lives more rich as a result.
posted by hippybear at 11:46 AM on November 3, 2015 [20 favorites]


Oh man. I can relate. Last Christmas we went to my in-laws. They have 35 acres and are really into hunting and trapping. As we approached the house with our kids (ages 5 and 10) we see a dead raccoon sprawled across the picnic table out front. Its paw is all mangled and you can see the bones. Later on they invited us down to see something in the barn. That something? A dead coyote, tied to a ladder, with a 5-gallon bucket under its head to catch all of the blood. They thought it was neat. My 10 year old spent the evening -- after we got home and decompressed - crying.

I expressed my discomfort while I was there. About a month later a subscription to Fur, Fish and Game begins to arrive in our mailbox. I'm 41 and I dread Christmas with my inlaws. I wish that I could take a stand, but there's no way my husband would ever not see his family for Christmas, and there's no way they'd let us just stay for dinner/presents and leave.

But yes, there is a lot to be said for setting boundaries and sticking to them. Life is short.
posted by Ostara at 11:57 AM on November 3, 2015 [28 favorites]


I feel like this is some significant percentage of questions on Ask MeFi right here.

It's easy to say holidays are rough, but that erases the awful rest of the year for people in these situations.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 11:57 AM on November 3, 2015 [9 favorites]


The hot shame and terror you feel when people ask “What are you doing for Christmas” or say “But what about your faaaaaamily!” without realizing that their small talk is your stuff of nightmares is real, and I’m sorry. It’s such a shitty combination of feeling put on the spot, shown up for not being ‘normal,’ maybe with the stab of grief for the memories you *should* have had, and anger at the happy obliviousness of the questioner.
Oh gawd, this. (From the first article). I've gotten better, but it's still hard.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 11:57 AM on November 3, 2015 [40 favorites]


About a month later a subscription to Fur, Fish and Game begins to arrive in our mailbox.

Jesus. So they aren't just following their hunting lifestyle; they're actively trolling you with it. I can get the "Kids need to get over the squeamishness about blood 'cause it's where their food comes from." Don't agree with it, really, but I get it. Yet to send you magazines when you're long gone? That's way more than "Hey we're not gonna hide who we are from the grandkids."
posted by scaryblackdeath at 12:05 PM on November 3, 2015 [53 favorites]


Christmas is the most important holiday to my mother. Doesn't care about Easter, Thanksgiving, her Birthday, whatever other holidays people celebrate. When my family was still a family it was her absolute number one time of the year. Eight years ago my parents divorced and now my dad has a new family and he does his own thing with them and my mom just has my sister and I. My sister will try to spend the holidays with whatever boyfriend she has at the time so I'm the one who will have to spend Christmas with my mom until one of us dies. I used to hate it and now it's ok, I found ways to cope and handle it, so that's nice.

One of the best moments of the last decade was being in a group of eight people who totally got that I hated the holidays, how it was stressful and how the pressure to be with family, and happy with family, was. Feeling alone on Christmas because you don't have a choice on how you personally celebrate it is awful. I always tried to explain it because people look at you like a monster when you say that you don't like Christmas. Being with the family of your choosing seems like such a pleasant. All I want is to drink beer with my cat and watch Gremlins all day while I listen to Jingle Cats.
posted by Neronomius at 12:06 PM on November 3, 2015 [14 favorites]


I haven't done family Christmas for the past three years and I hope I won't have to again. The first year I had it completely and utterly on my own; I ordered a ton of nice food and holed up in my flat with films and books and booze. Lots of people gave me pityface when they found out what I was doing, but it's such a fond memory for me now, whereas I have almost no nice memories from 25+ family Christmases.

Commiserations to everyone who doesn't have the option to get out of difficult family stuff at Christmas. It's crap, and made so much worse by the huge over-egging of how ~perfect~ Christmas should be (see also NYE).
posted by theseldomseenkid at 12:09 PM on November 3, 2015 [10 favorites]


Well I've been thinking about this lately and after reading scholarly papers on the subject, I am understanding it more as a general phenomenon where intergenerational value differences are amplified due to social change.

And it can be particularly magnified for immigrant Americans due what is recognized as the difference in rate of acculturation between parent and child in a foreign environment - and some of the therapeutic research has tried to find ways to resolve this tension in a healthy way for all parties.

I'll also add that for the past few days my mother has had to handle some important forms for an elderly couple who lives in the same city as we do. Monthly or biweekly they will call up my mom with some issue for assistance, often health related. Their children won't see them even as the husband, at age 99, was sick enough to get hospitalised last month. It's left to my mom to play good Samaritan and deal with their needs. Which is why my dad and I are having lunch by ourselves. I'm not interested in saying anything in particular, other than given these kinds of knowledge, I simply have to develop a more complex perspective on these intergenerational conflicts.
posted by polymodus at 12:11 PM on November 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


Ostara: A dead coyote, tied to a ladder, with a 5-gallon bucket under its head to catch all of the blood. They thought it was neat. My 10 year old spent the evening -- after we got home and decompressed - crying.

I expressed my discomfort while I was there. About a month later a subscription to Fur, Fish and Game begins to arrive in our mailbox.


If this were AskMe, you would be getting a lot of replies telling you that you need to have a VERY FRANK DISCUSSION with your husband about not spending holidays with these people tout de suite. They're abusing you and your kid--and I'm speaking as someone who endured both physical and mental violence at the hands of parents and grandparents alike. That's mental abuse and it needs to stop.
posted by tzikeh at 12:11 PM on November 3, 2015 [69 favorites]


Being Jewish: so great.
posted by the_blizz at 12:13 PM on November 3, 2015 [18 favorites]


My church has a Thanksgiving and Christmas Day feast, ostensibly for folks who don't have family available, but I also think for those who just don't want to see the ones they have. It's a good idea.
posted by emjaybee at 12:16 PM on November 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


(I mean, not that there aren't Jewish holidays with their own associated familial Jewish guilt. But we avoid the one-two punch of familial PLUS societal expectations. So there's always the ol' "sorry, can't take that much time off work" excuse to fall back on.)
posted by the_blizz at 12:16 PM on November 3, 2015 [11 favorites]


My 10 year old spent the evening -- after we got home and decompressed - crying. I expressed my discomfort while I was there. About a month later a subscription to Fur, Fish and Game begins to arrive in our mailbox.

Hi, I just want you to know, in case you were wondering if you were judging too harshly, or overreacting, or anything like that, I really need you to know that these people are terrible and bad and if anything you have underreacted by not ritually consuming their flesh in order to defeat their evil.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:18 PM on November 3, 2015 [133 favorites]


As usual, poffin boffin says it better than I tried to say it.
posted by tzikeh at 12:21 PM on November 3, 2015 [7 favorites]


Being Jewish: so great.

Uh, I have some stories about that. It can also be not so great, too.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:24 PM on November 3, 2015 [14 favorites]


One of the hardest ideas to get over for me was the idea that those whose nature is to give are obligated to give to those whose nature is to take.

Hope everybody gets to spend their time in a way that gives them peace and happiness.
posted by Mooski at 12:30 PM on November 3, 2015 [90 favorites]


We used to go spend Christmas with my (very difficult) family each year. About three years ago I left my wife and kids hanging out with my parents one night while I went to have coffee with an old friend who was going through a hard time. My mother chose that evening to flip out; tell my wife that she was smothering me, insist that my wife do nothing do disrupt my time with my friend; and forcibly took her phone away so she couldn't call or text me. My mother confiscated a phone from the woman I had been married to more than a decade so she couldn't contact me.

Of course, my wife sent me a quick text from her iPad to let me know what was up. I told her to start packing. I wrapped things up with my friend, went back to my parents' house, loaded our things up, and we drove home starting about 8:00 that night. This was probably around December 22. Then we wound up, for the first time, having Christmas with just me, my wife, and our kids.

It was glorious. Amazing. Everyone was in a good mood; everyone had a good time; the kids got to combine their new toys with old toys right away; we ate whatever we wanted to. Best Christmas ever. We became lifetime converts right then. We will see family before Christmas--for short visits. We will see family after Christmas. But Christmas itself and the days immediately before and after are just for us, forever.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 12:34 PM on November 3, 2015 [157 favorites]


[Mods: please make a note that I have tried to favorite Mooski's comment more than once and it's not working.]
posted by odinsdream at 12:39 PM on November 3, 2015 [17 favorites]


As we approached the house with our kids (ages 5 and 10) we see a dead raccoon sprawled across the picnic table out front. Its paw is all mangled and you can see the bones. Later on they invited us down to see something in the barn. That something? A dead coyote, tied to a ladder, with a 5-gallon bucket under its head to catch all of the blood.

You need to submit this to the Voight-Kampff corporation!

The thing I really hate about holidays is when everyone thinks they are "supposed" to do something, and so we walk through a pantomime of whatever that is which nobody enjoys. Especially cool when I have to drive six hours with toddlers to get to there!

I think the above may be kind of a boomer thing... Everyone my parents age seems to have this anxiety about preserving rituals from an immediately prior generation.
posted by selfnoise at 12:39 PM on November 3, 2015 [6 favorites]


Pater Alethias: Whooo, happy end!
posted by Omnomnom at 12:41 PM on November 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


Absence makes the heart grow fonder you realize how crazy your family really is.
posted by madajb at 12:44 PM on November 3, 2015 [11 favorites]


I find that Christmas songs and symbols and periphery are genuinely triggering often enough that sometimes I wonder if I ought to move to India or something.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 12:45 PM on November 3, 2015 [7 favorites]


Being Jewish: so great.

Agreed. Pass the General Tso's chicken.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:51 PM on November 3, 2015 [18 favorites]




Hi, I just want you to know, in case you were wondering if you were judging too harshly, or overreacting, or anything like that, I really need you to know that these people are terrible and bad and if anything you have underreacted by not ritually consuming their flesh in order to defeat their evil.

I appreciate the vote of confidence. It still upsets me, just thinking about it. I went back and looked at my pictures and it was two raccoons and a coyote.
posted by Ostara at 12:54 PM on November 3, 2015 [8 favorites]


I am spending Christmas in Wisconsin with my friends, and their adorable 5 year old daughter, with whom I expect to play many, many games of Uno.

It will be the best Christmas of my whole life, regardless of how it turns out, because I will be with people who actually love me.
posted by gsh at 12:55 PM on November 3, 2015 [25 favorites]


We are going to Toronto for Christmas this year but are deliberately not telling my husband's family that we will be in town longer than Xmas Eve/Xmas Day because then it becomes SPEND ALL YOUR TIME WITH US. As I get older, I am less interested in doing that with either family. I will visit because I love you but holy shit, back off on the needy, y'all.
posted by Kitteh at 12:57 PM on November 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


Then there comes the phase when you find yourself middle-aged and not living quite far enough away (only a three hour drive) from your family, and your parents are getting old enough that you keep saying well, sigh, you better go because health problems and they're really old now and don't have many more years and probably you'll regret it if you didn't endure that one last passive-aggressive swap of pointless Xmas gifts nobody actually wanted before eating yourselves into low-grade food comas and owing your partner another big favor for coming with you. (And hoping for a snow reprieve so you can stay close to home and just go to a bad movie matinee free of snack-chomping brats and afterward get a huge plate of Chinese food like your Jewish friends.)
posted by aught at 1:05 PM on November 3, 2015 [9 favorites]


Hummm...I made up a Solstice tradition for my immediate family that did not involve extended family, only friends, my children, their friends and it was a huge thing with bonfire, and feasting. People would bring things, attributes they wanted to be rid of, written on paper to ritually burn in the fire. Then we had spices to throw on the fire to take up wishes for the new year. One year a visitor to the event brought a two page list he read through slowly.

I made the emotional investment at that event, and figured out how to split up all the holiday events in everyone's best interest. The last Christmas I spent with my Mom in her institution left me carrying the weight of the long term coping.

In my family there was no resolution except I did all the reading of Bradshaw. I did not walk away, but I disassociated. I have not found a reason to change that. I warily visit with my treasured children at the holidays, but I am quiet, realising it is them I want to see and know, I am well acquainted with me.

My take on this is no explanation or apology needed for absence. That is what cheesy cards are for. Hallmark has your back.
posted by Oyéah at 1:07 PM on November 3, 2015 [12 favorites]


Back, oh, about 25 years ago, I called my parents to see if they'd like me to come visit for Christmas, and my recently retired father answered the phone, and told me that he'd certainly like me to come by; he had a lawn that needed raking, the dock needed a coat of paint, and there were a couple of trees that needed to be cut down. I thanked him, told him I wouldn't be coming after all, and hung up. A couple of months later, my parents divorced, mostly over domestic abuse issues. Haven't visited Dad since, only visit Mom outside of holiday seasons. Don't regret it.
posted by Blackanvil at 1:11 PM on November 3, 2015 [12 favorites]


I just wanted to take a moment to thank people here for their stories and being willing to talk about such difficult aspects of their lives. I know I can be thoughtless and hearing from MeFites in challenging family situations has made me a lot more considerate in terms of saying stuff like "Oh fantastic, sometimes it's so nice to have time to yourself!" or "I'm glad you're making a choice that works for you" or even "You're totally invited to our house for [event] if you'd like some company" when I hear people will not be seeing their families of origin. I am totally sure this stuff isn't easy to talk about it but I really, really appreciate your willingness and wanted to let you know that at least in some small ways I think it has helped other MeFites, including me, be more thoughtful and kinder to other people in tough family circumstances.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 1:17 PM on November 3, 2015 [36 favorites]


The hot shame and terror you feel when people ask “What are you doing for Christmas” or say “But what about your faaaaaamily!” without realizing that their small talk is your stuff of nightmares is real, and I’m sorry. It’s such a shitty combination of feeling put on the spot, shown up for not being ‘normal,’ maybe with the stab of grief for the memories you *should* have had, and anger at the happy obliviousness of the questioner.

Quoting this again, because uggggggggghhhh. My family isn't even abusive or anything, just difficult and weird and complicated. And then my parents live in different states! The cousins that we're close with live in different states from those! Flights to my hometown are impossibly high-priced around then, plus there's usually some sort of inclement weather surprise! So I haven't been home for the holidays in a couple of years, and the reaction to that is 9 times out of 10, “But what about your faaaaaamily!," which, don't worry pal I still see them, but at a time when there aren't extra layers of money and stress and expectations. My family is not a perfect family and what works for us...works for us.

Plus I like having the entire office to myself, it means I can blast Jingle Rock Bell as loud and often as I want.
posted by everybody had matching towels at 1:18 PM on November 3, 2015 [12 favorites]


What do grown children owe their abusive parents?

Nothing. If you want to spend time with your parents, do it. If not, don't.

Nobody "owes" anyone anything.
posted by paulcole at 1:21 PM on November 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


Growing up, we'd decorate the tree together as a family. After perhaps 10 minutes, my father and sister would have fought and then mutually decided to go off and sulk in their respective rooms, leaving my mother and I to finish the job.

When I turned 18 and fled the house, having always felt like something was wrong, I learned that the holidays could actually be fun, and pleasant, if I spent them with friends or family of whomever I was dating at the time. Those were great times.

Then my sister died. For a while after that we didn't have Xmas at all. Then they decided to "take the holiday back," and I was asked to be around for holidays. At this point I had decided that the problem was my toxic family, so I work as many holidays as possible. Or rather "work."

After 18, the holidays are for whatever you want them to be. Let the broken ones be broken.
posted by nevercalm at 1:24 PM on November 3, 2015 [9 favorites]


Being Jewish: so great.

You cut the toikey without me?
posted by maxsparber at 1:25 PM on November 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


Plus I like having the entire office to myself, it means I can blast Jingle Rock Bell as loud and often as I want.
posted by everybody had matching towels at 4:18 PM on November 3 [+] [!]


What day is this because I fly up on Christmas Eve and come back Boxing Day so if this is happening on the 23rd and you can have strangers in your building I will show up with reindeer antlers and elf hats and we can have a dance party.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 1:26 PM on November 3, 2015 [17 favorites]


There's nothing quite as shitty as spending some precious time off going somewhere you don't want to be with people you don't want to see. On a true holiday the theme should be "there's no place else I'd rather be, and no one else I'd rather see."

I think a lot of narcissist abuser parents insist on having their kids come home because it lets them think everything turned out alright,no matter how miserable the gathering is. And it's totally narcissistic entitlement with some families, they gave birth to you unasked so you owe them your free time. Fuck to the no.
posted by aydeejones at 1:28 PM on November 3, 2015 [32 favorites]


I've been estranged from my family of origin for a long time and am now, oh, twenty-three days out from my first Thanksgiving with someone else's. I thought I'd feel better about by now, but no, I'm still completely terrified! So I have to read articles and posts and letters like the OP because they're the only thing that makes me feel a little less broken. Holidays are occasions of deep, howling loneliness for me, probably the only time I ever feel lonely at all, and as goth and whiny as I know it sounds, I honestly don't understand what families are even supposed to be*.

Social units based around a parental figure or figures who claim to love their child or children and vice versa? That doesn't just sound awkward, it doesn't even sound real. I just don't get it, all the way to my bones, in such a profound way that it beggars belief. When I see a film or TV depiction of people who are supposed to be related, gathering around a table and talking and eating and laughing and just... not seething with silent rage and disgust, not knowing in their heart of hearts that everyone else around the table hates them? Who trusts anyone that much, to feel peaceful and welcome and even a little bit safe around them? Is that really a thing? The whole concept makes me so uncomfortable.

So I'm really hoping to be able to put those feelings aside and bask in some joy and glad tidings, because my friend was so nice to invite me to spend the holiday with her and hers, and it's probably the first time in my life I've ever felt more than ~2% confident that I was invited because someone truly wants me to be there rather than because they feel sorry for me. I hope I don't fuck it up. And I hope everyone else in the same position can feel a little less broken this year, too.

* Obligatory: Families, how do they work?
posted by divined by radio at 1:29 PM on November 3, 2015 [44 favorites]


I seem to always preface these comments with "well, I wouldn't exactly call it abusive, but...". Anyway, holidays were and are stressful because my mother's got it in her head that she's the second coming of Martha Stewart, so if things are exactly perfect (or we aren't sufficiently enthusiastic about decorating cookies or whatever) then there is no end to the amount of yelling and torment around the house.

Luckily for us, my brother took all the heat for the collapse of our holiday traditions. His wife's birthday is on Christmas, and she insists on celebrating it with her family every year; the first year they didn't celebrate with our parents was a rough one. The year after that, we all went to my brother's house for Christmas - except we brought dinner with us, since my mother's perfectionism meant that my brother's cooking wasn't good enough for the holidays. THAT was an exciting sit-down round the dinner table.

My sister-in-law is expecting their second child the day after Thanksgiving, so we've resigned ourselves to either traveling all the way to Baltimore twice each year or celebrating without them. We actually get to stay at home for Christmas this year and I am stoked. My parents are coming up later on Christmas day, so we don't have to worry about perfecting any of my mother's traditions, and I can cook whatever I want and get drunk on the expensive red wine they'll bring up and muddle through the rest of the day.
posted by backseatpilot at 1:31 PM on November 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


Your Fire Your Soul - Dar Williams
You are not a punching bag my dear,
I think your darkest days should have some light this year.
I think you should stay right here.
posted by maryr at 1:32 PM on November 3, 2015 [8 favorites]


divined by radio, I honestly and plainly hope you have a great holiday.

We pick our friends, but your family you just get. So if you picked your friends carefully, and have purposefully decide to celebrate with them, then I think you are poised on the brink of greatness. So do it! :7)
posted by wenestvedt at 1:34 PM on November 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


we've resigned ourselves to either traveling all the way to Baltimore

I have spent multiple holidays in a Baltimore bar called Bad Decisions and have never had anything less than a fantastic time (all I'm trying to say is you've got options).
posted by everybody had matching towels at 1:35 PM on November 3, 2015 [8 favorites]


In preparation for Thanksgiving, I have been reading up on the holiday. There's a lot of it I think is lovely, and is worth considering more, and perhaps expanding on. The choice of food, as an example, represents the Columbian exchange -- it's all indigenous American food, and it's a good time to reflect on the fact that so much of our diet is influenced and dependent on the crops cultivated by the Native population, that we ourselves are products of that exchange.

But, despite the fact that there were various Thanksgiving and harvest festivals here and there in American history, the holiday as we know it really started with Lincoln. Or, to give credit where it is due, it started with a woman, Sarah Josepha Hale, who wrote the "Mary Had a Little Lamb" nursery rhyme. Hale believed that Thanksgiving should be a national holiday, and tireless advocated for it, spending 17 years writing letters to five US Presidents.

Lincoln, enmeshed in the Civil War, having just had victory in Gettysburg, listened to her, and proclaimed a national holiday, which has continued. In fact, the early Thanksgivings were heavily invested in honoring Union troops, especially focusing on charity toward soldiers who were disabled or destitute, which continues in today's tradition of turkeys at homeless shelters (and may also have influenced the fact the political machines delivered turkeys to the poorer members of their wards.) And this tradition, the tradition of sharing with those in need on the holiday, and honoring our soldiers, I think are good ones.

But I think things never completely escape their origins, and so it's no wonder Thanksgiving always seems to be the time of year when some thoughtless relative will open their mouth to say something horrible, or to express some sort of horrible political opinion, or to sadistically needle a family member.

How can they not? The holiday began with civil war.
posted by maxsparber at 1:45 PM on November 3, 2015 [34 favorites]


I cut contact with my father 3 years ago and my life is much less stressful. It has meant that I have "missed" out on family xmas for the past 3 years and I'm good with that. Dad tried to ruin Xmas every year anyway.

I spent some nice Xmas's with my husbands family but unfortunately, his mom died 4 years ago and the past two Xmas have been spent with my father-in-laws huge new family. Not enjoyable.

This year I told my husband that I wanted to spend Xmas day with my husband in my own house for the first time.
posted by Gwynarra at 1:59 PM on November 3, 2015 [7 favorites]


I haven't spoken or visited my father in over a decade, which, for a while, caused me quite a bit of anguish. I'm the eldest son. Filial piety and assorted Confucian ethics require that I be dutiful in order to preserve order, regardless of how I felt. Worse still was finding that my younger brother also cut off contact, and the fear that I might have influenced it added to that guilt.

It wasn't until later I found out my brother had his own reasons which were completely unrelated to mine, and we both were able to talk about our father with, "Christ, what an asshole."

And it was around that time that I began reading Confucius's works, and while I'm no expert, I liked the notion that the loyalty follows in an ordered system if and only if the superior has moral rectitude and performs his own obligations to his vassals.

My father failed to hold up his half of the sky. So fuck him. He is unworthy of loyalty or filial piety. And that's made never visiting him so much easier and guilt-free.

Mom, on the other hand, gets lots of visits, even if she does say I've put on weight right before she cooks an enormous meal and then wonders why I don't eat it all. I think she still sometimes thinks I have the appetite and metabolism of someone half my age.
posted by qcubed at 2:01 PM on November 3, 2015 [25 favorites]


Jingle Rock Bell is the sound of the season.
posted by Artw at 2:08 PM on November 3, 2015 [7 favorites]


This year I am moving to Prague.

I'll arrive on my bday Dec 14. I will be able to avoid any and all get togethers for bday, winter solstice, and new years with the best possible excuse other than being dead:

ON A DIFFERENT CONTINENT.

I will take myself to nice dinner. I will read a book. I will remember child hood Christmases back when they were magical. And that's good enough for me.

I hope everyone gets to spend the holidays with the sensory level they can handle.
posted by sio42 at 2:22 PM on November 3, 2015 [24 favorites]


...I moved four and a half thousand miles and an entire fucking ocean away so I wouldn't have to spend Christmas with my family any more.

Oh, and for grad school, but...yeah.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 2:26 PM on November 3, 2015 [8 favorites]


I reconnected with family this year after a couple of years of not talking and not spending holidays together, so unfortunately I think my glorious Christmases spent alone doing whatever the hell I want to are at an end, at least for a few years. (Local family consists of me and my grandma, who's closing in on 90. She might live forever, though.) Every year I watch my married or coupled friends deal with all the logistics of planning holiday visits with each of their families, and it just looks hellish. I can barely even handle getting myself out of the house with pants on, let alone coordinating travel and gift-buying and dealing with someone else's family on top of my own... I'd either better stay single forever or only date orphans/estranged children of terrible parents, for real.
posted by palomar at 2:26 PM on November 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


This year I am moving to Prague.

awwwwww shit, your Christmas just got so awesome. You can go explore the Christmas markets and soak up all the sights and sounds and smells in exactly the ways you want! LUCKY.
posted by palomar at 2:27 PM on November 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


Basically, I describe my life as the last panel of this Achewood comic.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 2:29 PM on November 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


I spent my first Christmas (and the Thanksgiving before it) alone at the age of 16, given that I had been kicked out of my uber-right-wing house at that age. I worked at a grocery store and it was closed on those days so I just kind of rode my bike around the neighborhood, but everyone was inside with their families.

In college, of my own volition, I was trying to make amends with my family to be able to spend Christmases with them. They were incredibly stressful for me, at an age that I was only beginning to be able to understand the affect it was having on me. My family would insist on asking what I wanted for the holidays, then getting me something completely different from my more-than-reasonable requests (an Oakland A's jersey, a Band of Brothers DVD set, what have you). When I wouldn't be overjoyed with my odd gifts, that had to be intentionally not the thing I had requested in response to being asked what I would like, the drama train would leave the station.

Or I'd speak up and have an opinion that differed from what was accepted as true and right in my parents' household.

By the time college was over, I was making the trek home for Christmas maybe every-other year at best. We'd talk on the phone and I'd hear how missed I was. I was also significantly less stressed.

Moving overseas in my late 20's made it all but a moot point. Coming home for the holidays simply wasn't a financial option at that point. Skype conversations and wondering why they couldn't even send a present through the mail. To be fair, I wasn't really making an effort in that department myself at that point.

Now we're back in the US and I'm living closer to the family than ever before since college, and I couldn't feel further away. My parents and the siblings who remain at home and sharing their world view have becomes something of a co-dependent spin-cycle of hurt and anger that I just can't figure out how to turn off or unplug.

Being married to another sane person who can help me see it from the outside and confirm that it is neither normal nor fair to myself has been an incredible boon. I feel for the first time that there is actually someone outside of me that is for me in the world. Someone that cares about me and my stress levels, emotional health, and general sanity. Someone who can help me point out to the family that it is on them if I'm no longer welcome in their enclave, and that I am doing all I can to bend over backward to make relationship happen.

Sometimes I wonder why I'm still trying. Family can be so hard for some of us. I'm desperately jealous of those for whom it comes so easy, and deeply sympathetic to those for whom the holidays looms every year because of the family storms it portents.
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:34 PM on November 3, 2015 [11 favorites]


How can they not? The holiday began with civil war.

as long as it ends with pie
posted by poffin boffin at 2:34 PM on November 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


awwwwww shit, your Christmas just got so awesome. You can go explore the Christmas markets and soak up all the sights and sounds and smells in exactly the ways you want! LUCKY.

Very much this. Buy a mug and get buzzed on erdbeerpunsch. Chow down on cheese krainers. I hate you.
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:35 PM on November 3, 2015 [6 favorites]


How can they not? The holiday began with civil war.

as long as it ends with pie


PIE WAR
posted by tzikeh at 2:39 PM on November 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


There are only so many ruined holidays I could tolerate. I moved 1,000 miles away from my family, and worked in retail for 10 years. No time off between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Sorry. I visited when I chose. Over time, we created a relationship, there were some good things. It can be done.

My relationship with my son is conflicted at times, but he wants to be here, or for me to be where he is, for important holidays, so that feels affirming.

The 1st Thanksgiving after the divorce, my son was at his Dad's. I had invitations, but couldn't deal, and I had a call center job for a big retailer. So very happy to work that holiday, and get doubletime plus the holiday pay, to boot. I would venture that the big family holiday with the burgeoning table and extended family is less typical than we think. All the ads make you think there's something wrong with you if you aren't at a table for at least 12, with a glossy turkey, etc. Plenty of single parents have a roast chicken with their kid, or join a friend or 2 for a nice meal.
posted by theora55 at 2:41 PM on November 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


I am very excited for Christmas markets and doing things at my own pace!
posted by sio42 at 2:47 PM on November 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


burgeoning table

It's arguably a bourgeois image, and would explain the rarity of it in these times.
posted by polymodus at 2:49 PM on November 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


I've spent from about August? Sometimes as late as October? Stressing to the point of tears about Christmas for the past ten years. My partner's family are big on it, to the point of being aggressively territorial about time spent with other people.

This year we decided to spend it with friends.

I cannot believe the difference it has made to my stress levels in general. I have plans to see family (my sister leaves for a trip early in December, and god forbid we don't have both sides going full consumerist nightmare hellscape gift orgies) but I just couldn't care less. I'll go to my friends house, cook a bunch of stuff, then on Boxing Day go to my grandmother's with some more food and eat some more and then go home and it will be glorious.

Hell, I'm not even stressed about gifts! I have some ideas, I am doing online orders, I've opted out of every gift exchange ever offered to me, and I'm just buying what I want to give to people.

That said, I've made some new US friends this year and there is a large part of me that wants to ditch next year (being the 'in-law' year) and go see them. Have Christmas in the cold, have Christmas with people who love me for me, not just tolerate me because their brother chose this strange little person and she then made a great kid so we better make nice so we can get kid-time. Spend it watching movies and cooking for people who appreciate my skills and who want to talk with me rather than interrogate me about what I'm doing wrong.

I spent years thinking I hated Christmas, until I made some new friends outside of my family and in-laws. They thought I was joking about being a Grinch - goddamnit GA you handmade cards and biscuits and wrapping paper and listen to carols and plan out meals and do advent calendars that you made up why do you think you hate Christmas? And it is all this obligation. The gifts. The hours and hours and hours of enforced family time that just drag into a goddamn death march really because the beatings will continue until morale improves. Removing as much of that as possible makes for a much more pleasant holiday.
posted by geek anachronism at 2:52 PM on November 3, 2015 [9 favorites]


I am an annoying evangelist for 'screw family togetherness'. I used to be ashamed when I had to say that I wasn't with family for the holiday. Now I'm old and when people ask I say 'yes I plan to eat a truckload of Indian food and watch the Adventures of Baron Munchausen in my jammies.'

Join me in my glorious tradition, fellow survivors of garbage families! You gave nothing to lose but your panic attacks and gut-wrenching despair!
posted by winna at 2:54 PM on November 3, 2015 [39 favorites]


Thanks for reminding me, I just sent out my invitation for the annual Chinese restaurant dinner on December 25 for assorted atheists, agnostics, Jewish people, and alternatively spiritual people in my friend circle. I've been doing it for over 15 years now and it varies between 8 and 25 people every year. It's my favorite holiday tradition.
posted by matildaben at 2:58 PM on November 3, 2015 [21 favorites]


full consumerist nightmare hellscape gift orgies

Were you sitting next to me during the last Christmas of Obligation I attended? Or are you just an artist who paints in words?

(I wonder if the Christmases we're subjecting my daughter to -- with a focus on celebratory events and charity events -- will send her screaming toward the full consumerist nightmare hellscape gift orgy model of a holiday as an adult. And I hope I have the grace and strength of character to accept whatever her adult choices are. Please let me grow up before she does.)
posted by sobell at 3:02 PM on November 3, 2015 [10 favorites]


I haven't been home for Thanksgiving/Easter in years since I live halfway across the country from most of my family. So I usually actually look forward to trips home for Christmas. But usually by about day three I wonder why I bother. Every year my mom valiantly tries to take on planning Christmas for her entire side of the family including aunts/uncles/cousins/etc. and then almost like clockwork spends the actual holiday complaining that she has to do everything herself and no one helps (of course if you do help she wasn't talking about you. It's the rest of the family). Sigh... I'm not against visiting family so much, but I'm sick of the expectations that it will be something it won't.
posted by downtohisturtles at 3:13 PM on November 3, 2015


We've been going through a holiday crisis for many years now, as the wonderful fest-loving people in our family died. They could always handle the dramas and focus on the fun. When they died, holidays became fraught with sadness and also fights and drunkenness.
For several years, I traveled during the holidays, with different constellations of family and friends. We just couldn't imagine propping up the old traditions without the people who had been at the centre of them. My grandpa pretending to be Santa. My stepmother making the most beautiful decorations in our neighborhood. My dad going on about atheism while making sure every single detail was upheld. My aunt bringing magic to the holidays, as an artist with unlimited creative skills.
Now, we have established new family traditions, and I believe they will be foundational for the next generation and include wider and wider circles. Just as a message from an old person: things can change in a good way.
posted by mumimor at 3:44 PM on November 3, 2015 [6 favorites]


There are only three versions of the holiday worth celebrating:

* Gatherings in your own house or the house of a loved person where all parties want to be there
* If you have a beautiful family, I can maybe see celebrating Folgercest
* Quonsmas
posted by maxwelton at 3:50 PM on November 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


What do children owe their parents? NOTHING, beyond the basic respect we all owe each other. Nobody asks children if they want to be brought into this world. They don't get a choice of parents or parenting approaches. IMHO having a child is perhaps the most selfish thing one (well, two) can do. (I say this as a parent myself.)

FWIW my thing with home-for-the-holidays is my siblings' opinion that it's ludicrous to think I might have had a childhood experience in any way different from theirs.
posted by Lyme Drop at 4:23 PM on November 3, 2015 [6 favorites]


Holiday wish: May you find a way to bring your real and imperfect and wonderful self to the table, amid people who love you.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:24 PM on November 3, 2015 [6 favorites]


Also, pro tip, air travel on Christmas Day is AWESOME. New Year's Eve, too.
posted by Lyme Drop at 4:30 PM on November 3, 2015 [7 favorites]


The year I went travelling I bought special presents from each country for everyone in my family of origin. I wrapped them carefully and sent them home. A few months later when I hit the US I went to the state of hell and proudly presented them.

They had gotten me nothing, as I "wasn't there".

The next year I went to my older brother's Thanksgiving. I drove 5 hours and three hundred miles solo to do it. He spent the time humiliating me in front of his inlaws and trying to get me to admit to being bisexual because one Xmas I had brought a girl friend home whose family lived in another country, and I didn't want her to be alone. She ended up banging my younger brother in the basement that xmas btw. They had a grand time.

My parents have both passed away,so I no longer have to worry about hurting them. I look forward to taking long hikes with my goth husky and reading something trashy on both holidays.
posted by LuckyMonkey21 at 4:35 PM on November 3, 2015 [7 favorites]


Anyway, holidays were and are stressful because my mother's got it in her head that she's the second coming of Martha Stewart

This is Southern Christmas. The whole performativity thing. I detest it. My dad died of a heart attack right before Christmas when I was in college (we buried him on Boxing Day) and I spent my 20s and 30s using that as a club against aggressively cheerful people who were insistent on making Christmas the happiest season on earth willy nilly for the rest of us.

My mother is in an old-folks home now so we see her before Christmas and do the full-on family thing with his folks. Things are becoming less perfect every year as kids get older, relationships change, etc. and it's a lot easier for me.
posted by immlass at 5:05 PM on November 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


My family is actually okay, but I've still spent alternating Christmases and Thanksgivings alone for the past 5 years or so. My brother and sister in law have the deal that they spend alternating holidays with different in-laws each year, and the rest of the extended family has started to do the same, and they sync up with my brother's family - so the year that we have "custody" for Thanksgiving, the rest of the family comes too, but the year that my brother's with his in-laws, everyone else is elsewhere too, and so it ends up just being my parents, maybe an aunt, and me.

And we all wisely decided "fuck it, let's just do lunch at a restaurant the weekend before and be done with it." So every other year I just make a two-hour train trip to Providence on a weekend and get treated to a great lunch, and then for Thanksgiving I'm at home in my pajamas watching trashy TV and eating whatever I want. Same thing on the small Christmases. This year I'm even taking advantage of the fact that I won't have to travel to The Family Compound to take advantage of cheap airfare from flying Christmas Day, and will be going to Paris for a week.

Mentioning this only because I actually have had very few people express sympathy for me. Maybe at first they ask if I will get lonely, but then I get a gleam in my eye and start gushing about how "i can eat whatever i want and i don't have to travel or get dressed up or fight for the TV remote because I don't like football and I don't have to do dishes until I feel like it and I can eat nothing but CHEETOS or I can make myself a turkey dinner all for me and basically i am the boss of everything on that day", and after that, everyone hesitates, then they get this look on their face and they say "you know, that actually sounds FANTASTIC."

I kind of think that deep down, everyone actaully wants to sort of do exactly this on the holidays even if their families are normal.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:07 PM on November 3, 2015 [14 favorites]


The hot shame and terror you feel when people ask “What are you doing for Christmas” or say “But what about your faaaaaamily!” without realizing that their small talk is your stuff of nightmares is real, and I’m sorry. It’s such a shitty combination of feeling put on the spot, shown up for not being ‘normal,’ maybe with the stab of grief for the memories you *should* have had, and anger at the happy obliviousness of the questioner.

I might have posted this on here before, but one of the dumbest, most crushing, and more surreal experiences i've had was when i was discussing with a friend how my mom was categorically not invited over for christmas that year, and was generally 86'd from my friends and people holidays for quite a while because of her behavior at the last christmas*. We were both commiserating over stupid family behavior when...

Random people on the bus, started by one teenager going "Hey man, that's your mamma, you can't just do that" ALL TURNED AROUND AND CHASTISED ME, like some stupid scene in a movie. It literally lasted until i got off the bus with my friend way before my stop and just walked. All yelling out shit about how i was a shitty son and that's my mom and you can't do that and bla bla bla.

*Which is a HUGE story, but basically she got so hammered drunk that she couldn't find her credit card in a jacket she had chucked on the floor and became convinced ALL THE OTHER GUESTS had stolen it and started literally running around screaming at people and accusing them, ending the entire party as everyone got up and rapidly left while she screamed at cried and histionic'd. It turned out she had left her card at home. I discovered this after carrying her into a cab, going to her house with her, and finding it.

The point is, it was pretty fucking bad ok.

posted by emptythought at 5:48 PM on November 3, 2015 [20 favorites]


I solved this family problem years ago. It's tough at first, but you won't be sorry. Holidays are not for abuse or abusive behavior, no matter who it is.
posted by clavdivs at 7:32 PM on November 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


I work in retail, which gives me a built-in excuse not to show up at Thanksgiving and Christmas, (although I usually send cool presents). When I visit at non-holiday times of year, there's less pressure and we can just enjoy hanging out.
posted by jonmc at 8:19 PM on November 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


I used to despise Christmas. I cut off contact with my garbage family when I was 34. Since then, we have spent the holidays with dear friends, their kids are close in age to mine, it's low key and lovely and I rather like Christmas now.

My parents are in their 50s. They are missing the full moon of their only daughter's life, and the childhood of their only grandkids.

I never lose sleep over this. I do not feel sorry for them. They were terrible, TERRIBLE parents and had 15 years of my adulthood to make it right, which they squandered.

If you are wondering if you should cut off your parents, the answer is in the question. Set the boundary, get on with your life which will now be lower in stress and amazingly quiet in a way you did not realize existed. More silent, but smoother, richer. Still flawed but enriching. Imperfect but acceptably so.

The best thing I ever did was have kids. The second best was unhave my parents.
posted by Athene at 8:36 PM on November 3, 2015 [14 favorites]


My parents were never abusive, but my history with them is complicated and uncomfortable. I was talking to my girlfriend recently about how, despite said history, I still feel obligated to go home, because it's not too far away and besides, who else would be around to do Thanksgiving with when so many of my other friends spend it with their families?

She raised an eyebrow and said "Really ActionPopulated, how many queer people do you know?"

Whoa. That drove some things into perspective.
posted by ActionPopulated at 9:36 PM on November 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


I am an annoying evangelist for 'screw family togetherness'. I used to be ashamed when I had to say that I wasn't with family for the holiday. Now I'm old and when people ask I say 'yes I plan to eat a truckload of Indian food and watch the Adventures of Baron Munchausen in my jammies.'

Join me in my glorious tradition, fellow survivors of garbage families! You gave nothing to lose but your panic attacks and gut-wrenching despair!


The first empowering moment came when snowy weather kept me from going to Christmas, and I realized, "hey, I don't have to go to the shit fest of insecurity and bickering and pretending my dad isn't an abusive alcoholic that kicked me out of the house for standing up to him (and having a boyfriend who absolutely felt violence against woman is never okay ((we're married now.)) or that my mom was my dad's enabler." And all the back biting from the rest of the dysfunctional family.

The second empowering moment came years later when I stopped being terrified about coworkers and friends asking after my family over the holidays and I answered "My family is crazy pants. So me and the hubby celebrated together at home." Because the terrifying question was always more about feeling like something was wrong with me than with society's expectations- plenty of people have reasons they aren't ashamed to share for not seeing family. I don't know what inspired me to throw that out the first time. Prior, I always lied or managed to come up with enough vagueness that the deer-in-headlights feeling only briefly flickered across my face (I think).

It's not perfect, I'm not 100% comfortable, but I have been making baby steps to accepting it's okay for me to have had a fucked up childhood and even make light of it as a way of coping. In the mean time, my husband and I keep forging ahead with our own holiday traditions. Even if he doesn't get why I need to make a whole turkey just for the two of us (and the cats and dogs. And even the bird.)
posted by [insert clever name here] at 9:45 PM on November 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


First off, so glad I don't celebrate Christmas (Jewish). Second, god I hate thanksgiving so much.

Third, I think a lot of narcissist abuser parents insist on having their kids come home because it lets them think everything turned out alright,no matter how miserable the gathering is. And it's totally narcissistic entitlement with some families, they gave birth to you unasked so you owe them your free time.

This. I can't even describe how accurate this is in my life. Or if I did, I'd break the word limit.
posted by Sophie1 at 10:14 PM on November 3, 2015 [11 favorites]


Thank you for this post.

The whole time from thanksgiving through new year's is pretty fraught for me, and I often feel very much like the ghost at the feast because of it. While I am not glad that anyone here also feels pain and/or discomfort around this time of year and the attendant narratives about family, I do not feel like quite as much of an outlier today. Thanks, to the OP, and all who have commented.
posted by Vigilant at 10:40 PM on November 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


I was just fist-pumping because my mom was aggressively YOU CAN'T BE ALONE FOR THANKSGIVING DON'T WORRY I'LL COME UP while I was playing defense like I was the only man on the ice in the final for the Stanley Cup and one of my friends invited me to something so I was able to pull the "OH MAN SORRY I HAVE PLANS YEP NO NEED TO WORRY HERE."

Downside I will probably be stuck with her at Christmas.

Ugh, I hate Christmas.

For me, everything revolved around my younger sister once she was born, so Christmas for me was just a reminder of how much I didn't fit in the family anymore. She'd get a tremendous spread of presents. I'd get...well, just going through a mental list.

The free throw-in TV that came with the brand new $2000 computer system they bought her. (A TV is pretty sweet but she was also 4 and what the hell can a 4 year old do with a $2000 computer besides break it? Then, of course, it was my job to fix it.)

The year I got a folding chair.

The year I got a set of hubcaps that didn't even fit on my car then got screamed at for not being grateful for them.

And then there was listening to Christmas music from November until July because YOUR SISTER LIIIIIKES ITTTTT.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:56 PM on November 3, 2015 [4 favorites]




I broke contact with my father two years ago just before the holidays and it was the best thing I ever did for myself. He's several different flavors of abusive and narcissistic to boot. My therapist rightly pointed out that the only way I'd survive the holidays was by dissociating, which would be terrible for me psychologically. So I finally had external validation and impetus to do what I'd wanted for years.

That first Christmas was the hardest. I'd done Thanksgiving on my own for years and loved it, but never Christmas. Thinking about it, the one Christmas tradition I was fond of was colorful lights in the dark and so I decorated my place accordingly. It helped to know I was establishing my own tradition. I spent that Christmas with a friend, but did my own thing last year and probably will this year as well. It really is much more relaxing and peaceful, especially when I remind myself that I never have to see my abuser's face again (still gives me the warm fuzzies). Also, I get a whole roast duck to myself.
posted by zenzicube at 5:47 AM on November 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


I don't really have much to add here, other than to thank you for sharing your stories and to wish I could give you all hugs. I'm doing Thanksgiving at my own place with just my wife and daughter this year, but only because of logistical issues. If anyone is in Boston and wants to come eat a piece of pie, shoot me a MeMail :-)
posted by Mayor West at 6:15 AM on November 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


Fortunately I don't have abusive family, but my family is sort of broken.

We decided to stay home for the holidays this year. Last year was sort of sad. My grandma doesn't host anymore since my grandpa died. My aunt used to host but was in the midst of a divorce last year. And my dad divorced for the fifth time (ugh) a few years ago. So we ate Cracker Barrel take-out turkey around my dad's kitchen table. My aunt looked like she was on the verge of tears the entire time. Sad.

This year we're staying home and making a proper thanksgiving feast with all the trimmings. We're getting out the Christmas decorations the day after. My family can do the 4 1/2 hour drive if they want and come see us if they choose.
posted by Fleebnork at 6:45 AM on November 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


Empress: I think even those of us (me) whose families are okay and who generally enjoy the holidays also like the idea of having a day to sit around in your PJs and do nothing. It's why I always look forward to the day after Thanksgiving as much as Thanksgiving itself. Your situation sounds like the best of both worlds.

NB: Also why I'm dreading having to go visit my in-laws on some future Thanksgiving (though not this year). I get on with them just fine, but my string of Fridays and Saturdays spent blissfully watching TV by myself will come to an end.
posted by breakin' the law at 8:17 AM on November 4, 2015


Oh hey, the Captain had another (very relevant) post about parent/child dynamics today. I sort of want to send it out to my entire family, but my sister's getting married next year and she and her spouse are nothing but awesome. I don't want to load family stress on top of her while she's fending off my parents' attempts to control everything about her wedding. Plus I want to see both my sisters, and until the baby sister is an actual adult that's going to be... tricky. And I don't want to leave my thirteen-year-old baby sister on her own with my parents, you know?

Unfortunately this means that my Christmas visit this year will coincide with dress shopping for a matron of honor gown (ugh, uuuuugh) and other wedding planning, which I'm going to guess is going to amplify the perfectionism and pressure and panic about what nebulous "other people" will think a hundredfold. And of course it will amplify my mother's anxiety about appearances, which means she will say random asshole things about me and/or my friends and/or my partner (where she thinks my partner can't hear) more frequently, then dig in her heels and throw a fit when called on it, and I am still getting over wilting and shutting down every time that happens. I'm still trying to learn that I can't control that shit and figuring out how to deal when it does. Last time I visited for more than a couple of days, I basically stopped eating out of stress. At least I'm not going home for Thanksgiving.
posted by sciatrix at 8:40 AM on November 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


I came to think of a great Christmas I once had.
My dad and stepmother were living in an other country at the time, and my grandparents lived quite far away; because of work, we (me and then-husband) couldn't travel far. I hadn't cut off my recently divorced mother yet, but we both hated the idea of spending the evening alone with her and my sister. Then we realized that a couple of our friends had no place to be and we invited them. My sister told us she had a friend who was planning an evening alone with her father, and we invited them. We invited everyone else we knew to come over after dinner. And suddenly the whole thing changed - it was not a gloomy family guilt-fest, but a happy party for people who didn't know each other (and thus were polite and friendly). And ex and I got to feel generous and open-minded while we were in fact avoiding a horrible depressing night of my drunk mother and teen-sister fighting. In fact, my mother left early, so she could drink alone, and the party went on until late.
posted by mumimor at 11:33 AM on November 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


Now I'm old and when people ask I say 'yes I plan to eat a truckload of Indian food and watch the Adventures of Baron Munchausen in my jammies.'

I really love my family, but that actually sounds like more fun.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:29 PM on November 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


My parents are not physically abusive anymore, but my father is a narcissist and my mother is a co-narcissist/enabler, so it's always exciting to visit. I am currently back under their roof (due to financial reasons - no other choice) for the first time in years. This is also the first visit since I've conquered most of my lifelong self-hatred and I now fully understand my father's mental illness, after over a year of difficult self-therapy.

It is very challenging to try to remember that it doesn't have to be like it was when I was a kid, that I don't need their validation as a sign of my own self-worth. I don't have to buy into their version of reality. I don't need to accept the petty tantrums, and I don't need to argue and defend myself. I have the right to be treated with respect, and the right to walk away. I am haunted in many ways by the ghost of my past self, and I've been fighting hard to avoid slipping back into old destructive behaviors which only feed my father's ego. Narcissism tries to engulf you like a tsunami, the person both unaware and unable to become aware of the destruction they cause to others.

So, while the holidays have never been a big deal for me - I've spent most of my adult life thousands of happy miles away - it feels good to relate to others with similar problems with their families. We are not alone, and that is empowering.

I've been reading this book for children of narcissists, and it's been helpful in getting me to recognize lingering ripples of behavior patterned from dealing with this bullshit. I highly recommend it.
posted by Feyala at 3:31 PM on November 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


Four years ago, my father died doing what he loved the most: ruining the holidays for everyone with his overbearing need for attention and drama.

The year before, he had screamed at me for putting too much onions in the lasagna, then he baked a store-bought frozen Stoffers lasagna and blamed me for everyone eating late.

The year before that, at the holiday dinner table, he let my sister-in-law know that the gravy she spent a couple hours making tasted "like shit."

And on and on. Did the same kind of stuff at my wedding too. And my brother's wedding. And also, just all the damn time constantly. And made sure to dial the cursing and yelling up a notch or two whenever children were present.

I never had the strength to just say "aw fuck it, we're not doing the holidays there this year, or ever again."

Four years ago he got real sick right before Thanksgiving and was in the hospital for a few weeks, and then sent home for Hospice care, and I was in the room with him when he died on Dec. 13. He hadn't been lucid for a couple of days and I was helping him stay out of pain by dripping liquid morphine under his tongue, resisting the urge to knock back a drop or two myself. I told mom to go walk the dog, and I sat down on the couch to watch TV and have a beer, he had an adjustable bed in the living room so we could keep an eye on him. It was a little after midnight and he quit breathing. My mom came back in with the dog.

Holidays are a lot more relaxed now. All I have to deal with is guilt-trips from my mother and crazy political ranting from my tea-party guns-and-gold-hoarding brother. And I get to see my niece and nephew, and they are beautiful. And I hope, if they need it, they have the strength to just say "aw fuck it, we're not doing the holidays there this year, or ever again."
posted by Cookiebastard at 4:06 PM on November 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


I posted The Debt (Slate) previously on the blue (January this year), if people want to look at the conversation there. Nice post!
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 7:26 PM on November 4, 2015


(I added a question mark to the title to make it less of a final statement.)
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 7:28 PM on November 4, 2015


One of the nice things about having a family who didn't really do much in the way of "family" is that those traditions can be broken early. I've spend miserable holidays with relatives and lame holidays with in-laws and fabulous holidays watching Michael Jordan and the Bulls just PUT IT to the Miami Heat. Christmas in Paris and a Christmas when I was alone with six dollars in my bank account (but with movies and a tiny tree).

I have Thanksgiving plans with friends, but Christmas may find me alone. Friends may invite me, or I may spend it with two cats, unlimited entertainment and nice food and wine. Or I could make a huge effort to travel 16 hours to be ignored at my brother's house. More caviar, kitties? Don't mind if we do.

Broken family people, be tender with yourselves this season. Other people, be generous with invitations. And god bless us, every one.
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 9:55 PM on November 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


When I lived out west, we had Orphan Thanksgiving and Orphan Christmas a few times, mostly queer kids, mostly from other places, so not seeing family for one reason or another. SO MUCH BETTER than any holiday with my family ever.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:05 PM on November 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


Mr. Roquette and I are Muslim and politically liberal, so the Tea Party relatives (SIL, and his brother) make the whole deal fairly difficult. I wish I could just get out of it some years but I hardly get to see my daughter or grand-kids and my son all together. Add to it my health issues and the dietary things and it's rough. The FIL of my daughter passed last year. He was increasingly insulting towards me.One BIL, the one I least get on with has actually been putting in an appearance after YEARS of mainly hiding in the basement at his Mom's. Mr. Roquette's family were very bad to him when he was growing up. If he were in touch, they'd be horrified that he converted for me. They were not nice people. His better relatives are long dead.
I really miss Sarajevo mightily this time of year. I did not need to do anything but send cards and maybe call people. I spent 3 Christmas seasons there, and it was awesome.
I stayed in and watched TV to all hours. New Years I had some friends over, and cooked really nice things. I like New Years Eve more anyway.
Mr. Roquette and I watch New Year's Eve on EarthCam and have my black - eyed beans with meat-balls.

My parents were pretty abused growing up. They were trying so hard not to pass it on. They dreaded holidays, especially Christmas.
At least they tried hard not to make those times aweful. I tried to keep holidays bearable for my now grown kids. As a single parent it wasn't easy.
Shout - out to EVERYONE who digs the song 'Rebel Jesus' because that song is so real.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 11:22 PM on November 4, 2015


On the one hand, I did well with my parents. On the other hand, it's generally been pretty clear that the extended family in my state on both sides are just not that into us or were only tolerating us for the sake of my now-dead dad. So every Christmas is a different weird year trying to figure out how to amuse my mom and not rub it into her face that we're all alone, except in almost all cases that really hasn't been doable at all. I'm glad those of you who are happy to be watching TV alone on Christmas enjoy it, but that sort of thing only leads to bad and sad here (i.e. dwelling rather than distraction). I've been looking for some random family to adopt us, but so far no dice and the few times we've gone to someone else's family's house it was just too weird and we were the freak lone "orphans" there and ... ugh.

This year we'll be spending it pet sitting and not even going on a trip since my mom no longer gets vacation (seriously). On the one hand: alone alone alone. On the other hand: it's a nice house and the dog is adorable. So there's that.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:40 AM on November 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


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